A public meeting hosted by the Downtown Hawley Partnership (DHP), Oct. 3rd, helped stir and refine a vision for the future direction of this community. Promoting business, a recreational trail and how to get the youth actively involved were hot topics. Missing the train, however, was the first topic that generated a round of discussion, mixed with lament, nostalgia, desire for information and hope that something can be done. The tracks leading trough Hawley- a rail town for more than 150 years- have fallen silent this year as weeds have sprouted around rails and ties. Wayne County Chamber of Commerce suspended the popular Stourbridge Line rail excursions last December, pending funds to upgrade and maintain the locomotive. At the same time, the owner of the rail line between Honesdale and Lackawaxen put it up for sale, with immediate prospects diminished for freight business. The railroad hired to run the rail line stopped work here as of the end of 2011. The Stourbridge Line has brought thousands of tourists to the area each year, since commencing in 1979. The name reflects the area’s railroad heritage, with the first commercial steam locomotive- the Stourbridge Lion- to operate in America occurring in Honesdale in 1829. Twenty three local citizens, representing a broad swathe of the Hawley community, gathered in the Hawley Public Library. Julie Fitzpatrick, of the PA Downtown Center, facilitated the process. This was a follow up to a meeting in May, meant to update a vision statement first developed in 2008. Elaine Herzog of the DHP board stated that the train is a priority concern in Hawley, Honesdale and White Mills, each which are served by the tourist line. This was a major topic at a recent meeting of the Pennsylvania Heritage Communities, with representation from each town. Calling the railroad revitalization a “mammoth” project, questions were raised over how long the tracks could remain dormant. Three parties are involved- the railroad owner, the Lackawaxen - Honesdale Shippers Association which owns the train, and the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce which runs the excursions. Jeanne Genzlinger recommended that the DHP send a letter to the Chamber, stating support for a regional meeting. An advisory train committee was recommended, which could also include the village of Lackawaxen. “There’s strength in numbers,” Herzog reminded. “This may sound sacrilegious,” Sue Currier offered. Looking ahead at their options, should the day come that the railroad is finished and the tracks taken away, all need not be lost to tourism. Currier suggested that the historic line could be converted into a recreational trail. Pastor Ken Platt stated that the rail heritage cold still be marketed.
The group was broken into three focus groups, to discuss business development, engaging the youth and creating a recreational trail. Simon Knox shared about the business discussion. The talk centered around encouraging prospective, new business owners to make use of an incubator program already in place through Workforce Wayne. Programs offered through Workforce Wayne, which has a business training space at the Hawley Silk Mill, can help a new business be more successful. Educating business owners on how they can get financial assistance to improve their facades was also discussed. Cheryl Duquette spoke for the group discussing youth engagement. She stated that there are a lot of services available in the area but not enough awareness about the, Assessing those services and programs and how to reach the youth was the focus. A youth committee on the DHP was recommended, to enable the youth to have a voice in the progress of Hawley. Grant Genzlinger reported on the recreational trail discussion. Efforts continue to find a way to extend the current Wallenpaupack Lake Trail and Wallenpaupack Creek Trail, to Hawley Borough and further the extension west on Route 6 to the D&H Canal Park being developed by the Wayne County Historical Society. Two grant applications were discussed, one for the Hawley Borough component and the other for the line extension through Palmyra Township- Pike County. Negotiation continues with PPL Corporation, for approval of a route through PPL’s land east of the Borough line. The hiking trail is seen as an important conduit for the local economy, broadening the interest among tourists and local residents alike. Proposals that came out of the meeting will be forwarded to the full DHP board. Herzog stated that a lot that was discussed was identified by the vision process four years ago, but momentum was lost. She said it was valuable to gain new input, and suggested that the DHP board members involved in the focus groups help keep the process moving. For more information on the DHP, call (570)226-4064 or visit online at www.visithawleypa.com.